It will be “home sweet home” all the way for Tasman as they approach the business end of their Mitre 10 Cup season.
Although the Mako had actually clinched top spot in the premiership round robin standings before they kicked off at Trafalgar Park on Sunday, North Harbour having done them a favour by tipping over Wellington on Friday, they underlined their lofty status with another dominant display.
Now they know that as long as they progress in the NPC play-offs they will be performing in front of their home fans, starting with a semi-final against the fourth-qualifier in Blenheim, expected to be confirmed for October 15. If they get through that encounter, Nelson will host the final a week later.
What must have been doubly pleasing for the Mako management was the fact several of the squad’s unsung heroes stepped up against Northland and played major roles in their 52-6 victory.
Players like Tasman B skipper Taina Fox-Matamua who slipped into the No 8 jersey with aplomb. Mobile lock Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta was another to impress, along with props Ryan Coxon and Sam Matenga as the Mako tested their forward depth in the best way possible.
Wider out, centre Fetuli Paea showed he is well capable of breaking defences at this level and picked up the team’s man of the match award, while prolific try-scorer Jamie Spowart continues to put pressure on the established wingers. Replacement halfback Declan Smith, another Tasman B stand-out, had limited minutes but did not look out of place either.
Realistically, none of those seven appear first-choice options for Tasman at play-off time, underlining the talent-base cleverly built by coaches Andrew Goodman, Clarke Dermody, Shane Christie and Gray Cornelius.
However, the second-stringers’ efforts against the Taniwha will not only provide some selection headaches, it will also help the coaching staff sleep easier over the next couple of few weeks as injury concerns build.
Admittedly, Northland have had a horror season but showed they were up for a battle at Trafalgar, at least for the first 60 minutes. They made Tasman earn most of their eight tries, forcing the Mako to build phases and look after the ball.
This was a tough match, particularly mentally, for the home side, coming as it did after such an emphatic win over the defending champions and with top qualifying position in the bag. It would have been easy to let standards slip, and at times the Mako certainly fell below their accepted accuracy and efficiency levels. The urge to entertain must have also been strong, especially in pristine rugby conditions, but generally they worked hard to stay within the structures and systems that have served them well so far.
Co-head coach Goodman said there were some “little frustrations with our execution and option-taking” in the first half but he was happy to claim the five points.
“The boys fixed that up though and there was some pretty good stuff out there, we scored some good tries.”
Facing a trip to Napier next Saturday to meet the high-flying Hawke’s Bay side, the big challenge for the Mako coaches will be how to balance the need to maintain the winning momentum, while ensuring key players are fighting fit for the play-offs.
Goodman said the game against the Magpies was an ideal fixture heading into the semi-final and suggested the Mako management would field a strong side for their final round robin encounter.
“Hawke’s Bay are a quality side, they have lost just one game all season.
“We want to have a good performance heading into the first final … which will give us confidence for the next week, hopefully keep that roll on.
“Momentum is a big factor … our boys are already talking about going up there, so it’s going to be a great challenge.”
That match kicks off at 2.35pm on Saturday.